Grants at the Other End

I’m a baby academic. Two years ago I got my first real grant, a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship from the European Union. Applying for it was a complicated process, full of Word templates and mismatched expectations. Two years later the grant is over, and I get another new experience: grant reporting.

Writing a report after a grant is sort of like applying for a grant. Instead of summarizing and justifying what you intend to do, you summarize and justify what you actually did. There are also Word templates. Grant reports are probably easier than grant applications: you don’t have to “hook” your audience or show off. But they are harder in one aspect: they highlight the different ways different fields handle uncertainty.

If you do experiments, having a clear plan makes sense. You buy special equipment and hire postdocs and even technicians to do specific jobs. Your experiments may or may not find what you hope for, but at least you can try to do them on schedule, and describe the setbacks when you can’t.

As a theorist, you’re more nimble. Your equipment are computers, your postdocs have their own research. Overall, it’s easy to pick up new projects as new ideas come in. As a result, your plans change more. New papers might inspire you to try new things. They might also discourage you, if you learn the idea you had won’t actually work. The field can move fast, and you want to keep up with it.

Writing my first grant report will be interesting. I’ll need to thread the gap between expectations and reality, to look back on my progress and talk about why. And of course, I have to do it in Microsoft Word.

1 thought on “Grants at the Other End

  1. ohwilleke

    A worthwhile task. My mother spent her entire post-kids career as a university administrator who helped faculty figure out the grant application process. The faculty who bite the bullet and master this art consistently prosper relative to their peers within academia. Trying to do research without grants is like trying to do physics computations with vacuum tubes. It isn’t impossible to thrive that way, but it is profoundly more difficult and rarely succeeds. You need to know grant application rules just as much as you need to know the chain rule.

    As a theorist, you also have the benefit of making a much smaller ask, which greatly increases your chances of success.

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